Once upon a time there were kings.
Not King, but Kings.
In fact they were Feudal Lords: some ruling great swathes of land, others only small areas of England. To make things really complicated Scotland and Wales had an entirely separate system of their own which existed alongside our own for quite some period of time.
After a lot of messing around, wars and bargaining it all came together under one King – however even before 1066 and all that the Anglo-Saxon’s established the Witenagemot (meeting of wise men) to aid the King with his Kinging (it was a bit more than sitting in a posh carriage, waving to the adoring masses back then)
There were many, many developments in this, which include Edward 1 setting up the first proper parliament in 1295 and King John signing the Magna Carta, however it wasn’t until King Charles 1 came in and Oliver Cromwell decided enough was enough that things got really messy and Charles ended up shorter in death than he had been in life.
From then on the real power was in Parliament’s hands. At some point (don’t ask me when) we established a multi-party system and started letting people vote (though by no means all the people)
There were initially two parties of note – both of which we will return to: however as my knowledge of the origins of Government are fuzzier than Elmo from Sesame Street we’ll skip this and cut to the chase by talking about what’s happening these days:
IN THE RED CORNER
The New-boys in town: the Johnny-come-latelies, the pretenders to the throne: the Labour Party.
Originally they were presented as the Party of the people, with communistic leanings so heavy that Senator McCarthy would have wanted a serious word with their members. They used to sing “The Red Flag” and support nationalisation of industry (buying industries through taxes), as well as the various strikes we had during the 70s and 80s. Musician Phil Collins famously claimed that if Labour ever came to power he would leave the country. It is not known to what degree this has aided their unprecedented three terms in office.
Famous leaders of note include Neil Kinnock (Thatcher era). The Labour Party is currently in power under Gordon Brown.
During the 80s and early 90s there was a lot of in-fighting and confusion in the Labour Party that made them unpalatable to the British voter, however: in the early 1990s there was something of a revolution and the Uber-Thatcher (or Tony Blair, as he’s better known) took over. Someone, somewhere in the Labour party had realised that the only way to knock the Conservatives out of power was to become them. New Labour was borne.
The Red Flag was cast aside, we were told “Things Can Only Get Better”, Oasis were invited around for tea and all of a sudden talk of nationalisation was dropped. They moved so quickly towards centre that traffic coming the other way was forced to jump out of the way. Tony Blair leaped straight into bed with George W Bush and remained firmly there.
Things to remember when voting Labour: As the former Chancellor of the Exchequer their current leader Gordon Brown is the man most responsible for the lousy state of the National Health Service and the current collapse. Thanks to him it we are now more in debt than we ever were under the Tories (and oh – by the way – we’re nationalising again!)
IN THE BLUE CORNER:
The Conservative Party (or Tories).
Back in the day the Tories and the Whigs (Liberals) had it all to themselves and the Tories represented the right.
Most famous leaders include Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Since Thatcher got the boot they have had a succession of leaders ending in David Cameron who is, rather ironically, the Uber-Blair. Cameron has a regular Web-blog with his family to show that he is “down with the kids” and “with it” and cycles to work to show his green credentials – but only on Wednesdays when the press are more likely to be following him (for Prime Minister’s Questions) and allegedly with a big car behind carrying a change of shoes.
Most famous for refusing to budge during the strikes of the 80s, destroying the power of the unions, supporting privatisation (selling industries previously nationalised to “encourage competition” (for encourage competition read increase profit)) and for the deeply unpopular Poll Tax the Tories are now trying to recapture the ground they lost over the last decade, ironically by trying to make themselves accessible to the same voters that brought in the Labour Party.
IN THE YELLOW CORNER:
The only other party of any real note is the Liberal Democrats. However, they should not be confused with the Liberals (or Whigs) that existed Back In The Day: although they share some of the same roots they are not the same party.
And again we have to go back to the 1980s when something rather odd happened in UK politics. A group of Ministers called “The Gang Of Four” split off from the Labour Party in 1981 and formed the SDP-Liberal Alliance. Around this time it became a very confusing issue voting for the Liberals because there were almost as many splinter groups as the Peoples Front Of Judea (or, indeed, the Judean People’s Front or the very lonely Popular Front of Judea (NB: for anyone who doesn’t get the reference go rent Life Of Brian NOW!!!)) and it was far too easy to accidentally tick the wrong box. However, after 7 years they merged and became the Liberal Democrats.
At the height of the unpopularity of the Tories the Lib Dems had a real chance to gain ground over Labour and in fact have taken many so called “safe” seats. However, thanks to the ineptitude of their then-leader Charles Kennedy (or Chat-Show Charlie as he was better known) they failed to capitalize on this – instead choosing to leap on whichever popular bandwagon was rolling through town.
Currently under the leadership of Nick Clegg the Liberal Democrats occupy an increasingly crowded middle ground in politics and support the introduction of Proportional Representation – which they say would be a fairer voting system and are the only party to openly admit that they would raise taxes. However a tiny problem with voting for them is that no one really knows the first thing about their policies or their leader. A comedy moment in their recent history occurred when they elected a leader with the nickname of “Ming”
A FEW OF THE OTHERS
Below the three main parties there are a whole herd of “one issue” parties and politicians. In many boroughs there are lone councillors elected to fight against hospital closures, or seats that went to people who disagreed with England entering Europe. The Green Party regularly does quite well and the Monster Raving Looney Party gets the occasional protest vote.
Most worrying of all is the recent rise in popularity of the British National Party. Although they have been keen to play down their racist credentials in recent years their main policy is still to Send Freeloading Johnny Foreigner Back Home in whatever form he or she may take. Sadly they have failed to realise that it is mainly British people too lazy or unwilling to do certain jobs that cause the problems in the first place, nor that we are essentially an immigrant nation and always have been (back to the Romans and the Normans and beyond)
In short I tend to feel that Douglas Adams was right when he said that anyone who is remotely capable of getting themselves into a position of power is, by very dint of that fact, the absolute last person you should allow to be there. Clearly this creates something of a conundrum. After all: who watches the watchmen?